Finding the right wading staff for fly-fishing can be simple. They will range in price from free to almost $150. I will not focus here on brand names but on the features and benefits you may want to consider.
Your home waters and your budget may help you decide on the final product.
The first thing you need to establish is the need. Do you want to lug the thing along with you all day? If the streambed of your home waters is mostly gravel you may not need one at all. If on the other hand they resemble most Oregon coastal streams where the streambed (and the riverbank for that matter) looks and feels like greased bowling balls, they become a must-have.
The biggest benefit of a wading staff is that you always have that third leg. Two points are always firmly set for balance. You don’t move one foot till the other foot and the wading staff are firmly set.
Wading poles are also great for testing the water level. It may be deeper than you think.
My first wading staff was a stick I found on the riverbank. A friend of mine was showing me some of his steelhead spots when he started to cross the river. He walked across the river like he was walking to the store. The water was knee high but moving fast. Needless to say I was a little apprehensive. He recommended a stick. It worked great.
Some people will also use a broom handle with a hole drilled through it with a strap and a rubber tip glued to the other end. The idea here is to have it tied to a sling or to your wading belt when not in use. I have a second flexible belt and a carabineer just for that purpose.
Wood poles will float behind you and may interfere with your fly line at times.
Benefits of a wood pole are they do not make noise when they hit rocks like the metal tips and you can always depend on them for support. Sound travels fast under water and the metal tip found on metal poles may spook every trout and steelhead in the area.
A staff can also be made from an old ski pole. You may be able to find them after the ski season or at garage sales. Cut away the circular basket at the end, leaving small stubs about an inch long. This will keep the end from sinking into soft soils. As mentioned already their metal tip could be an issue.
There are several collapsible staffs on the market today. Some people will also use a model used for hiking. The hiking models may be as cheap as $15. The wading staffs of the same adjustable design may run $85. It almost makes you wonder.
I have been using the Fishpond model for several years. The first thing I did was stick it between two rocks and break the tip off. I think they call that operator error.
It took me about a half hour to lose the rubber tip off the end of the second one.
It is somewhere on the river in four inches of streambed. I discovered this fact after hearing the clinking metal sound as I started to cross the river. I have since epoxied a rubber tip from the hardware store on the end, which has solved the metal tip sound problem. The rubber tip is not as solid on mossy rocks so I always make sure I have a solid set before moving.
I have had problems with the twist fasteners that adjust the length. I now have it set for one length because I am afraid of making adjustments on the river. It is working fine for now.
Some people have mentioned that the aluminum rods will vibrate in heavy current. Not a problem for me because I avoid heavy current if at all possible.
Most of these come with a holster or pouch that fits on your wading belt and may run $120. They have bungee cords running down the center. These are similar to tent poles only heavier. You may have to tighten the cord on occasion.
Some have a nasty habit of becoming stuck together so you may need to add candle or paraffin wax to the male ends. Then there is the problem of jamming it a tight spot and pulling on the bungee cord and leaving the lower section in the river. It may not happen but it is worth keeping in mind. Release buttons prevent this from happening.
They lock together solid where the telescopic poles may collapse on you if you are not careful.
You may not think you need a wading staff at this point but it is a good idea to have one if you are wading in water that has boulders and algae and is fast-moving.
It may just be my age but walking on the “greased bowling balls” that are also partially covered with vegetation along the riverbank can also be painful at times.
If you are fly fishing on slow, shallow or gravel-bottomed rivers, the wading staff may be unnecessary.
And as a final thought, if you are unsure, DON’T CROSS!